The path into darkness begins here...
How often have you read a short story and wished you could see what happened after the big ending? In this book, the ending is just the beginning as each short story represents a chapter in an upcoming Roma Gray novel or novel series.
1. FEAST ON FAT TUESDAY: At Mardi Gras, a vampire realizes he has become the prey.
2. AND THEN EVERYTHING CHANGED: The discovery of Atlantis changes the world in ways no one could have ever anticipated...or wanted.
3. SUMMER VACATION: A teenager discovers that not only is black magic real, it’s also very unpredictable.
4. THE INVISIBLE CARRIER: A deadly plague is spreading through the Pacific Northwest, but no one can figure out how. It might just be the truth is too strange to believe.
5. UNNATURAL DISASTERS: Governments are isolating disaster sites from the rest of the world. What are they trying to hide?
6. WILL THE REAL MONSTER PLEASE STAND UP? A rampaging mummy, two insane cats, and a secret government agency. For archeologist Alistair Black, it’s turning into a very strange night.
A collection of stories which are the beginning of novels by this author. I enjoyed the stories, I think my favorite was Unnatural Disasters and it is one I would definitely like to read more of. There is plenty here to keep people entertained from zombies to vampires, plagues to the lost city of Atlantis. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves horror, dystopia or fantasy novels.
This anthology is a collection of Twistered Tales based around the works and world's created by L. Frank Baum. They span the often wonderful, seedy, corrupt, terrifying or raunchy land of Oz covering a variety of genres. These stunning re-imaginings from amazing voices in fiction such as D.F. Noble, Kevin Candela, Donald Armfield, Leza Cantoral, Michael Kanuckel, Matthew Vaughn, Amanda Lyons and Berti Walker with newcomers like Jaylynn Merrill. Enjoy this acid trip down the Yellow Brick road with us, you'll never be the same.
Like the title suggests these are unique and twisted tales featuring the land of Oz. My favorite stories were Uneasy the Head that wears the Crown, and Dorothy from Kansas. A great collection that will keep you entertained. I would recommend it to Wizard of Oz fans.
The Maurin Kincaide Series
Genre: Paranormal Urban Fantasy
Number of pages: 326
Cover Artist: Joseph Eastwood
I'm Maurin Kincaide, a psychometric, and until a few days ago I was working for Salem's Preternatural Task Force as an interrogator. I cracked more cold cases and got more confessions than anyone else in the department. Of course that was before I traded in my badge for an ancient Celtic sword. Now, I'm the Special Liaison for the Council, the governing body of the Others, and I take my orders from witches, werewolves and vampires.
I didn't just make a career change though. I'm not the same person I was before. I'm stronger, I can heal from wounds that would kill a normal person. I'm developing latent psychic skills at a breakneck speed. Oh yeah, and it would seem that a Pagan goddess has taken permanent residence in my body and mind. Crazy thing is, I'm starting to feel normal, like this is who I'm supposed to be.
Of course, there are those who don't agree. Morrigan and her sisters for example. Actually, I'm pretty sure they'd like nothing more than to see me dead. And if I can't stop them and the demons they've raised, they just might get their wish.
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/Y9g8FJKN2vM
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Excerpt: The Morrigna
I couldn’t help feeling a little vindicated as the Captain told him his theory was pretty much paper thin, but he hadn’t even started on me yet. He dismissed Masarelli with a wave of his hand, but Masarelli didn’t move. He just stood there like he was waiting for more instructions or perhaps to hear me get chewed out. He would get neither.
“Now, Masarelli.” The tone in Matthison’s voice had me sitting up straight. “Shut the door behind you.”
Captain Matthison waited until Masarelli closed the door and was sure he had walked far enough away not to overhear our conversation before he continued. Definitely not a good sign.
“You’re not going to like what I have to say, Kincaide, but I’m going to say it and you’re going to listen. I’m putting you on paid administrative leave. Effective immediately.” He was his usual calm self as he handed out my punishment.
“For how long? Wait a minute, what the hell did I do? I came in here, tried to do my job and now you’re punishing me because I didn’t get the desired results? You never said that there would be repercussions if I didn’t produce every time when you offered me this job!” He might be calm, but I was fuming.
He lowered his head and ran a hand through his short brown hair. “I realize every case can’t be easy, that there will be times when you simply can’t get the answers we need. That’s not what this is about and you know it.”
“No, I don’t actually, so why don’t you enlighten me.” It probably wasn’t smart to get flippant with the Captain, but I couldn’t have cared less in the heat of the moment.
“There’s something going on with you. I’ve noticed things over the last couple of weeks, ever since we’ve been dealing with this demon case. Even before that, if we’re being perfectly honest. There‘s no way that witch should have walked out of here like she did.” He was mussing up his hair again, like he didn’t want to finish, so I didn’t give him the chance.
“If the arresting officer had caught that witch’s charms, we wouldn’t even be talking about her right now! And you can’t seriously think I had anything to do with any of this? That my not feeling well is in any way related to the demon running loose? So why put me on leave?” I didn’t even try to hide my disgust at the thought.
“Would you shut up and let me finish. We both know it’s more than you ‘not feeling well’. ‘Not feeling well’ implies that you’re coming down with a cold or something. That is not what is happening with you. And of course I don’t think you had anything to do with the demon. As for being related? Who knows? From what Masarelli says, our best, though admittedly thin, lead had you in some kind of trance. You were catatonic in our interrogation room for Christ’s sake! That’s never happened before. Not once in the three years you’ve been here. You have been getting stronger. I’ve seen it. You spend less and less time with the suspects and walk away with more and more information. But the witch? Charms have never stopped you before. And then you face O’Neil and it’s like you’ve got nothing, no abilities at all. He should have been a cakewalk for you. He didn’t even register on any of our psychic scans. It’s like with more power comes less control. I don’t know what’s going on with you and you don’t either. So until you figure it out, you’re on leave. I just can’t risk you being injured or blowing a case - both of which are very real possibilities and you know it. I don’t want you near the station or anywhere near this case. That’s an order.” He didn’t have the same tone in his voice as he had with Masarelli, but it didn’t make it any easier to hear what he had just said.
“Do you want my badge too?” Okay, it was slightly juvenile, but I couldn’t help myself.
“Are you offering it to me? Because as much as it would disappoint me, I’ll take it if you are,” he said.
The Maurin Kincaide Series
Genre: Paranormal Urban Fantasy
Number of pages: 316
Cover Artist: Joseph Eastwood
Maurin Kincaide is back in this action packed follow up novel to The Morrigna. No longer a member of Salem's Preternatural Task Force Maurin is the new liaison for The Council, governing body of Others. During what should have been a routine meeting with her former Captain, Maurin is brought in on a murder investigation.
Three dead witches, three cryptic clues, no sign of the killers and the Salem coven is losing allies within the Council. If Maurin and her unlikely partner Captain Matthison can't stop the killers, the Witch City might be without its namesake.
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/ZwTNzVGJvxQ
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Witch Hunt Excerpt:
Maurin Kincaide.” That was my professional greeting.
“It’s Matthison. You need to- ” I cut him off.
“Too late. You already approved the pass. You don’t get to change your mind now.” He wasn’t going back on the pass, not after I had already sent word that it had been approved.
“First, I only said yes to you. You don’t have my signature on the form yet. And second, I absolutely could go back on it if I wanted to, and there isn’t a damned thing that you could do about it. But that’s-” He didn’t get to finish.
“I could get someone to whip up a potion. I know people.” I interrupted.
I was almost to the corner. I pulled my coat a little tighter. It wasn’t officially winter yet, but the Solstice was only a week away. I could almost see the sign for the Daily Grind; coffee was almost within my reach.
“They wouldn’t and you know it. I didn’t call about the pass, Maurin. You need to come back in.” The friendly banter was over.
“Come back in? You make it sound like I’m wanted for questioning. Am I a person of interest, Captain?” I asked.
Something was up - so much for a decent cup of coffee. Looks like I’d be slurping down more of the sludge they keep in the coffee pot in the break room.
“You are one of the most interesting people that I know. I need to talk to you about a case.” I could hear him talking to someone, but his hand was over the receiver, muffling his voice.
“Wow! Sounds like you need to meet some more people. Don’t you have any cops working for you anymore, or did you transfer all of them too? Why didn’t you ask me about this when I was in your office?” Of course, I had already turned around. My curiosity was definitely peeked, but I didn’t want him to know that.
“I’m looking at it now for the first time. Just get your ass in here.” He hung up.
When I got back to Matthison’s office, he was gone. It didn’t take me that long to get there; I was right outside, for crying out loud. I scanned the desks outside his office and found him bent over a folder with my least favorite detective - Masarelli. The one good thing about not being on SPTF anymore was not seeing Masarelli’s ugly mug every day.
I walked over to Masarelli’s desk. “Captain.” I didn’t even bother acknowledging Masarelli, the prick. I did, however, try to look at the file on his desk.
Before I could get a good look at anything, Matthison scooped up the folder and waved me into his office. Masarelli turned his best thousand-yard stare on me – as if I was intimidated by him. I was a better interrogator than he was and he knew it. Of course, he would say it’s because I have advantages that he doesn’t. While it is true that I have what I would call “helpful abilities”, it isn’t my fault that I have them. Besides, I was convinced that I would be a better interrogator than Masarelli even without those abilities. I gave him a wink and a smile over my shoulder, and then followed the Captain into his office.
He dropped the file onto his desk. “I need you to make a call.”
I shut the door behind me. “I’m sorry, what?” I hadn’t expected him to ask me to make a phone call. Talk to a suspect for old time’s sake maybe, but not a phone call.
“You’re the liaison. I need you to call the Council. Mahalia, specifically.” He started rubbing his forehead, which was always his tell that something was very wrong.
“Okay, and what is it that you’d like me to ask her?” I asked. It was never good when he reminded you what your job was. Something was definitely wrong.
He dropped down in his chair. “Tell her that I’ve got a dead witch on my hands and I need her to ID the body. She can meet us at the morgue. They’ve already finished processing the scene.”
“How are you so sure it’s a witch? If they only just finished at the scene, then there’s no way you have lab confirmation. What makes you say witch?” I was really hoping that he was jumping the gun on this.
There were lots of Norms who liked to masquerade around as witches in Salem. You could find a body in front of a cauldron with a broom in one hand and a wand in the other, and it still wouldn’t mean you had a real witch. True witches have a slightly different genetic make-up than Norms, but you’d never know it without the lab work.
He slid the folder across his desk, spilling its contents. “Besides the ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’ carved into her abdomen, you mean?”
“Shit.” I picked up a photo off his desk. “Are her, are her hands cut off too?” Despite all the gross stuff I’d seen recently, I was still swallowing hard.
“Yeah, and her tongue was cut out too. Why would someone do that?” He wasn’t really asking me, which was good - because I didn’t have an answer.
The Maurin Kincaide Series
Genre: Paranormal Urban Fantasy
Number of pages: 78 Novella
Cover Artist: Joseph Eastwood
Given the choice between her sister's wedding and witnessing the challenge for Alpha of the Salem pack, Maurin knows exactly where she'd rather be. Smack dead center in a pack of snarling werewolves wearing eau de filet mignon.
Until Francesca takes off the morning of her wedding. Being her sister's keeper will not excuse her from her job as the Council Liaison. Torn between obligations to a family she's avoided for almost a decade and the Council of Others, Maurin has less than twenty-four hours to set things right.
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I woke in a cold sweat to the sound of heavy gun fire. I grabbed the Retaliator from the empty side of the bed and bolted out of my room. My front door was open and I was out in the little stairway that led to my third floor walk up before I was awake enough to realize there was no danger. My first clue should have been Conry- a Cwnn Anfwnn, gift from my father and personal guard "dog"- just rolling over and burying his head beneath his massive paws. The sound of grenades and Dempsey's voice coming up the stairs told me it was just my new neighbor playing COD Zombies with the TV full blast at three o'clock in the morning again. I was still in boy shorts and a tank top but I didn't bother to go back in my apartment to change. He'd seen me in less. I stormed down the flight of stairs to Cash's apartment with my sword in hand.
"It's going on four in the morning! Turn that shit off or I'll send some real zombies to your apartment!" I yelled while I pounded on the door.
How the guy on the first floor slept through it I'll never know. But it had been me stomping on my floor and banging on Cash's door every night for the last month.
"What's the big deal? I figured a fanger like you would be used to staying up late." Cash casually replied upon opening the door.
"You can be such a jerk." I said with more venom than the insult commanded.
"Jerk? That's the best you could come up with?" Cash said through his laughter.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm not at my wittiest when I wake up to the sound of World War III at three in the morning." I said tartly.
"It's Modern Warfare, not World War III." He smirked.
I rolled my eyes. "I'm not the only other person who lives here you know. I can only imagine what it sounds like downstairs. The poor guy probably has to sleep with ear plugs in." I scolded.
"Mike works third shift. He doesn't get home until after seven in the morning. " He was still smirking.
"He's only lived here for like three weeks and I haven't even talked to him. You two are what, like best friends already?" I asked, irritated.
"What can I say? People just like me better than you." He was past smirking and into a full grin.
I probably shouldn't have but I couldn't help myself. I swung the Retaliator around until the tip of the blade pressed against his Adam's apple. "Just turn the TV down or we'll see how good of a gamer you are without your thumbs."
I stomped away. "And stop staring at my ass." I said as I started up the steps. If the challenge for Alpha of the Salem pack didn't happen soon Roul was going to start getting wake up calls at three in the morning. I didn't know what the holdup was anyway. He was too busy to help us with the Inquisitors and the demon they unleashed a few weeks ago because of his "pack business" and now it's delay, delay, delay. It's been unusually quiet in Salem but I haven't had a decent night's sleep in four weeks because of my new neighbor.
Well, it wasn't all Cash's fault. Aidan had a little something to do with it - too bad it was just talking. Aidan made his feelings for me clear but was still insisting we take our time. Vampires could be very patient. Having spent most of my life living more like a "norm" than an immortal I found it infuriating. He wanted to be sure the effects of Mahalia's spell were gone. I assured him that any feelings I had for Oberon died the minute I found out he hadn't. I thought I had killed him, pulling too much power through the tie that bound us. In order to save himself, he broke the connection and the false feelings for him Mahalia had spelled into my heart.
I tried on more than one occasion to convince Aidan that I hadn't felt more like myself since Mahalia's magic had been broken. That had been a monumental waste of time. It takes powerful magic to control someone's heart and mind, he explained during one of our all night conversations. I had had other things on my mind, things that didn't involve so much talking. I used all my feminine wiles to persuade him - unsuccessfully. He was convinced lingering magic would try to latch itself onto the next person to vie for my affections. His conviction to determine my true feelings made for more than one long and frustrating night. Not to mention my temper was becoming increasingly short. Which might explain why I was down here threatening to cut fingers off my irritating neighbor's hands.
"No kiss good night?" Cash asked sarcastically.
I didn't bother with a response. Cash was one of the few people I knew who had as many smart ass comebacks as me. If I didn't walk away we'd be going at each other until the sun came up.
"How about a kiss for good luck then?" He called out as I was half way up the stairs. "The challenge is tonight."
I turned around slowly. How weird was that? I was just ranting to myself about how Roul was dragging his ass. If I didn't know better I would have thought Weres had suddenly developed the ability to read minds. Thankfully they hadn't or my thoughts about Roul wouldn't have been the only thing Cash would have glimpsed. He didn't need any more ammunition when it came to aggravating my vampire. If Cash even suspected my frustration with Aidan it would be like arming a nuclear war head.
"The only lips she'll be kissing are mine, wolf." Aidan's voice carried up the stairway from the first floor. I'd hardly seen him over the last couple of weeks. Just hearing his voice sent shivers up my spine and I silently cursed him, knowing full well we wouldn't get further than second base again tonight.
I'm sure Cash knew he was there, hence the kiss comments but I hadn't been expecting him. So why had he suddenly shown up on my doorstep? Curiosity over his surprise visit quieted my suddenly raging hormones. He had been working every night on some new assignment that he couldn't talk about. It was starting to piss me off actually - not the constantly working part, the not knowing part. To be honest, my increasingly bad mood may have stemmed more from being out of the action than Aidan staying out of my bedroom. Sure the time off from saving Salem from imminent danger was great. At first anyway, but it had been almost a month of peace and quiet. After only a week I found myself wishing for some sort of Armageddon. Whatever Aidan was working on seemed to be the cure for my doldrums - and pent up sexual energy - but Agrona had me on the sidelines with no intentions of letting me play in their vampire games
The Maurin Kincaide Series
Genre: Paranormal Urban Fantasy
Number of pages: 202
Cover Artist: Joseph Eastwood
Bodies are piling up and all signs point in one direction. Rogue vampire. Except things aren't always what they seem, especially in a murder investigation.
With her current relationship on the rocks, her father playing match-maker and her neighbor tossing his hat in the ring, the body count isn't the only thing on the rise. Maurin is neck deep in magic, mayhem and murder.
Can she catch the killer before the killer catches her? One things for certain, when hunting vampires there will be blood.
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Blood Bath Excerpt:
"You need to come to the station with me." He moved to open my door, like that would get me into motion. Conry took interest in the detective again and Masarelli quickly removed his hand from the handle.
"Look, I was going to talk to you about the Salem pack. I'll spare you the bullshit excuses and just admit I forgot. Cash is the new alpha. If I promise to come in tomorrow and tell you about it can I go? I'm already late for an appointment." I glanced at the clock on the radio. It was the only unoriginal thing in the car, well that and the speakers. I was now ten minutes late for my meeting with Arawn.
"It's not about the wolves. It can't wait until tomorrow." He backed up enough for me to open the car door.
"I'm not getting out of the car until you tell me what the hell is going on." I started to put the window back up.
"I am not going to discuss this on the side of the road. Quit busting my balls and get out of the dammed car."
"Quit busting your balls?" I opened the door and stepped out in a rush, thrusting my hand out. "Hello, pot, my names kettle. It's nice to meet you. Why can't I just follow you?"
He ran a hand over his face, across stubble that was too long, even for him. "This is exactly what I was talking about. Because I know you won't follow me. Now would you please get in my car so I can take you to the station and get your expert fucking opinion on something?"
I relinquished any hope of salvaging my night, leaned inside the Camero, put the window up, grabbed the keys from the ignition and whistled for Conry. I glared at Masarelli over my shoulder as I walked to his car, daring him to question me about my dog. Masarelli locked and shut the car door, giving the Camaro one last approving look before heading back to his filthy unmarked patrol car.
Since I wasn't under arrest - at least not yet, the night's still young - I opened the car door myself and slid in behind the driver's seat. "Remember that movie we watched last week, Conry? The one where the dog ate the nice policeman's headrest?" I gave him a big belly rub as he stretched out over my lap and the rest of the back seat.
Masarelli gave me his best cop stare in the rear view and headed toward the station. "So you just forgot about the fact that a black ops merc killed the alpha and took control of the Salem pack? You got papers for this guy?"
"It's a pack not the AKC." I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Matthison approved his pass personally."
"It's expired." He blipped the lights and burped the siren to get through the intersection.
"Cash is Alpha now. The paperwork is irrelevant at this point. Unless of course you want to run him out of town on a technicality and create a power vacuum." I gave Conry a little nudge, my legs were falling asleep.
Masarelli spared a quick glance in the rear view mirror. "What happened to Roul? They eat him?"
"Eighteenth century France called. They wanted their superstitions back. How did you get this job again? They buried him, following pack ritual." Not even ten minutes with him and I was already exhausted.
"And his mate?" He couldn't know, could he? Was this what the mysterious trip to the station was really about? He needed my expert opinion on some trumped up murder charge?
"Dead." I didn’t elaborate.
"Killing the mate isn't covered under the Meneur de Loupes agreement." He was fishing for something, anything to get rid of Cash.
My mouth was moving before I thought about the consequences. "It doesn't need to be covered by the Leader of the Wolves agreement since a werewolf didn't kill Olwyn. I did and it was self defense."
"And that's why you didn't bother telling us about it? I have to file a report and take your statement. I don't suppose you have someone to corroborate your self-defense story?"
Shit. "Besides the pack you mean?"
He shook his head. "What do you think?"
"No." If this sounded half as bad to him as it did to me I might actually be in trouble
The Maurin Kincaide Series
Short Story Book 4.5
Genre: Paranormal Urban Fantasy
Number of pages: 28
What do you do when you're out voted on hosting a holiday party, complete with gift exchange and all the trimmings?
Tie on the apron and deck those halls.
Self proclaimed Scrooge, Maurin Kincaide accepts the challenge and tackles the yuletide with all the determination she would a Council task.
But not everyone is brimming with holiday cheer. A blood coven threatens to bring the holiday festivities to an end.
Can Maurin stop the dark magic before the clock strikes twelve, signaling the solstice?
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Mistletoe Meltdown Excerpt:
"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yuletide carols being sung by a choir and folks dressed up like Eskimos." Nat King Cole's smooth voice blared from the outdoor speakers hidden in the greenery that turned the walking mall into a winter wonderland, soothing the savage holiday shopping beasts surrounding me. I tried not to overanalyze the lyrics but I'd met the Hoar Frost King once and he'd do a lot more than nip at your nose.
Besides, did anyone really have a Christmas like the ones people sang about?
The Kincaides, my adoptive family, practiced every holiday tradition from Midnight Mass to the extravagant family dinner to a house staged similar to something from a Martha Stewart Living magazine. It didn't change anything. The tinsel and twinkling lights only highlighted the hatred.
So imagine my enthusiasm when my real father Arawn suggested we have a Christmas/Solstice dinner. With friends. At my apartment. I understood his need to create memories--he'd missed out on most of my life--but as a self-proclaimed Scrooge I'd avoided anything to do with the holidays since I'd left Beacon Hill at seventeen. But here I was layered up underneath my leather jacket, knit hat pulled down to my eyebrows, basically dressed like the aforementioned Eskimo.
The numbness in my hands increased with each block I walked back to my car. Not from the cold--my purple wool gloves did a decent job--but from the shopping bags cutting of my circulation. I loaded up the Rabriolet, an old metallic blue VW so named because the guy who sold it took all the Rabbit badges off and replaced them with Cabriolet, the convertible's small trunk barely holding my haul of gifts and groceries for tonight's festivities.
The temperature inside the car barely rose a degree above the outside temperature during the short drive back to my apartment. I pulled into the parking space I'd shoveled out this morning after the snow stopped but didn't rush to get out of the car. Two pep talks later I dragged myself and my multitude of bags up the three flights of stairs which led to my place.
The Maurin Kincaide Series
Genre: Paranormal Urban Fantasy
Number of pages: 270
Cover Artist: Joseph Eastwood
Some things are destined to end in death. After the first attempt on her life Maurin wasn’t scared. Hell, she was almost flattered. But someone put a price on her head and things are getting complicated. Trouble is brewing in the fae courts and it’s spilling over into Salem. The UnSeelie Dark Guard have answered the call for her head on a platter and people closest to her are disappearing.
Can Maurin master court politics and find her missing men before someone claims the bounty on her head?
Available at BN
Ill Fated Excerpt:
"You're awake?" He sounded more than a little surprised.
"I'm not really sure the state I'm in qualifies as awake."
"Here I was, terrified to poke the dragon, and you're already drinking coffee and talking in complete sentences."
I snorted and took a sip of the aforementioned liquid gold. "Are you always like this in the morning?"
"If you'd let me sleep over you'd already know the answer to that question. Why aren't you asleep?"
In general or just tonight, I silently wondered. "Bad dream. I've been tossing and turning all night. I finally gave in and got out of bed."
Papers rustled in the background and when he spoke again, his voice was lower, intimate."You want to talk about it?"
"Something tells me my nightmares are the least of our problems."
"You have no idea. I need you to come down to my office."
I sighed. "Can it at least wait until after sunrise?"
"Would I be breaking the no phone calls before noon policy if it could wait?"
“There really is no rest for the wicked, is there?”
He laughed and the sound warmed me more than a hundred cups of coffee. "Apparently not, in your case. Now, there's a dirty chai latte and a croissant for you if you're here before Amalie. I can't promise real coffee and pastries will survive beyond five minutes of her arrival."
"It's four-thirty in the morning, Mas. If you know what's good for you, you'll make sure at least one dirty chai and croissant remain unmolested."
"I'll see you soon." He was laughing as he hung up the phone.
Three hours ago I’d practically crawled through the doorway, exhausted from cleaning up after a newbie vamp who’d broken the Jus Sanguinis Intergentes when she killed her donor. The blood pact between people and vampires had a clear no killing, no exceptions clause.
It was up to the maker to ensure their child was ready to feed unsupervised. If something went wrong and the Council found out about it, we cleaned up the mess and the sire was subject to heavy fines and possible revocation of their rights to expand their blood lines. She’d been quite literally a bitch to track and take down.
It had been a long night and it was shaping up to be an even longer day.
I wasted little time getting dressed, opting for a slip on black jersey dress, eighteen hole Docs and a leather jacket. Jewelry was a hindrance in my line of work. My meeting with Mason could easily turn into a run. Choked with my own chain? No, thank you. Unclasping the necklace, I set it in a glass dish on my bathroom counter. I ran a brush through my hair, a toothbrush over my teeth and slipped into the between. I stepped out of the alley two buildings down from the station and walked the last block and a half.
Amalie was swarmed by detectives trying to get at the goodies she brought over from the Daily Grind. She greeted me with a warm smile, shaking her head when I offered to pull her out of the fray. She had managed to endear herself to the entire department in record time. All it took was real coffee and fresh pastries. I pointed to Mason's office. She'd make her way over once the starving masses had their fill.
Mason was so engrossed in the file on his desk he didn't hear me come in. He looked as tired as I felt - too many double shifts. Despite an uptick in activity, SPTF was short staffed due to budget cuts. Without enough man power to staff the shifts properly overtime was mandatory.
"Is that for me?" I pointed at the to-go cup and white paper bag on his desk.
He finally looked up and gave me a smile which lit up his whole face. "As promised."
I stole a quick kiss, grabbed the coffee and croissant, and settled in the chair across from him. I took a long sip of my latte, savoring the delicious mix of tea and espresso. "Man, I needed this. Is that the case you're working on?"
"Yeah, we've got a real problem on our hands."
"Don't we always." I tried to peak at the file.
Mason closed the manila folder. "I'd rather wait until everyone is here."
"Who else is coming besides Amalie?" My curiosity was definitely peaked now. I reached across his desk, hoping to grab the file.
"You look exhausted. Tell me about your dream while we wait."
I narrowed my eyes and glared at him. "I see this for the obvious distraction it is but you're right.” Sighing, I rubbed my temple.“However, I'm exhausted, too exhausted to argue. So I'll tell you. Prepare to be confounded."
He listened intently as I filled him in on the nightly visits from the weathered old woman who washed my clothes and hauntingly called my name. I expected him to laugh and tell me it was just a dream, that I had nothing to worry about.
I didn't expect him to look so stricken.
"Bean Nighe." He all but whispered the name.
"You've heard of her?"
"Of course I've heard of her. How long has she been coming to you?"
I stared at him curiously. "A few weeks. Why?"
"A few weeks and this is the first I'm hearing of it?” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, obviously struggling to control his temper.“We talked about this. No holding things back, remember?"
"I thought it was just a dream.” I shrugged.“Honestly, I didn't think it was a big deal."
"It was a big enough deal for you to research it." Agitation rolled off him in waves.
When I agreed to give this thing with Mason a chance I also agreed to some conditions. No more flying solo, no more rash decisions or rushing off to play the hero. We were a team, in everything. This was just one of many set-backs.
"I got curious, did a little digging. Until tonight, everything I found pointed to deep seated family issues, particularly with a mother figure. I've told you about my childhood, does that dream analysis surprise you?"
His growl told me he wasn’t in the mood for reasonable—at least to me—explanations. "When did you discover the true meaning of the dream? How long have you known about the Bean Nighe?"
"Tonight. This morning. Before you called me." I held up a hand to stop the tongue lashing I knew he wanted to give me. "I would have told you. I got the impression on the phone there were more pressing matters than my insomnia."
"Is this why you won't let me stay at your place?” His gaze roamed over my face, searching.“Why you never stay at mine?"
"Is that the real reason why you're so upset?" I arched my brows. “Because we’re not having sleepovers?”
"I stayed at your lovely apartment the first night we met."
I turned to watch Aidan glide into the room, stopping behind my chair. Rolling my eyes, I snorted and muttered, “In the closet.”
Mason's jaw twitched but he didn't take the bait. "Aidan."
"It's almost sunrise. Shouldn't you be hunkered down for the day?" I sighed, wondering what he was doing here. I was too tired to deal with Aidan and Mason and their combined testoserone.
Putting the three of us in a room together was like throwing lit matches at sticks of dynamite - eventually one of them will explode.
About the Author:
Rachel Rawlings was born and raised in the Baltimore Metropolitan area. Her family, originally from Rhode Island, spent summers in New England sparking her fascination with Salem, MA. She has been writing fictional stories and poems since middle school, but it wasn't until 2009 that she found the inspiration to create her heroine Maurin Kincaide and complete her first full length novel, The Morrigna.
When she isn't writing, Rachel can often be found with her nose buried in a good book. An avid reader of Paranormal/Urban Fantasy, Horror and Steampunk herself, Rachel founded Hallowread- an interactive convention for both authors and fans of those genres.
More information on Hallowread, its schedule of events and participating authors can be found at www.hallowread.blogspot.com and www.facebook.com/Hallowread .
She still lives in Maryland with her husband and three children.
Maurin Kincaide is a psychometric who can pick up images by touching an object or read someone's mind by touching them. Her abilities enable her to work for a police force that deals in the supernatural.
I like the setting and the lead character's ability is interesting. There were plenty of supernatural creatures and I enjoyed reading about Maurin's world. There were some editing issues and Maurin tended to info dump every now and again to keep the audience up to speed which was a little clunky. I think it definitely has great promise, but could use a little work.I would read further books in the series.
S. K. Gregory
Publisher: Mockingbird Lane Press
Date of Publication: Oct 26th 2015
Number of pages: 206
Word Count: 46,000
Cover Artist: Jamie Johnson
Mackenzie Murphy thought her demon troubles were behind her, but with Taryn as her new roommate and his father still out to kill him, it seems there's no getting away from them.
When Taryn begins to act erratically, Mackenzie discovers that he has to face the consequences for saving her life. Deadly consequences.
So it's up to Mackenzie to save him, while avoiding the attention of a local cop and her homicidal boss.
Maybe demons are the least of her worries.
Available at Amazon
Drawing his cloak around him tightly, Jeremiah Fleming walked along the dirt road at dusk as he had been instructed to do. The map he had been given was old and the markings on it were faded, making it almost impossible to know if he was heading in the right direction. He had been told to go alone and he had agreed at the time but now he wondered if he was walking into a trap. He was after all, a prominent figure, making him a good target for kidnapping.
The demon he was being sent to find, the Traveler wasn’t recorded in the journals. He was elusive and did not always reside in this plane. Tonight was one of the rare nights that he could be summoned and a deal could be struck.
Since being initiated the year before, Jeremiah had been pushing for this to happen. The old order had all died out and as the new leader he had complete control. There were always going to be naysayer’s but he would deal with them in time.
He came to the crossroads by the old oak and stopped. This was the spot.
Making sure he had his knife within reach, he settled under the tree to wait. It grew dark before long, the silence was interrupted occasionally by the call of an owl but otherwise all remained still. The long walk had tired him, the quiet night lulled him and he dozed.
A shrill scream jerked him awake. It didn’t sound human, more the primal screech of an animal. He quickly climbed to his feet, knife at the ready. A thin mist curled around his ankles and he squinted in the darkness to see what had awakened him.
“That knife won’t harm me,” a voice said.
Jeremiah turned to find to see a dark shape behind him. The dark cloaked figure moved and a cold chill ran along his spine. He knew he was in the presence of real evil.
“I’ve come to make a deal,” he said.
The Traveler gave a low chuckle, “Such a righteous man wants to make a deal with me? What could you possibly want?”
“Power. The kind only you can provide.”
“Many humans have come before, asking for the same thing. Why should I grant it to you?”
“The others weren’t worthy. I am,” he said with more confidence than he felt. He held himself still. To show fear would be his death.
The Traveler moved closer, almost gliding across the ground. Jeremiah stood firm, although the thought of this thing touching him made him nauseous.
From the blackness under its hood, Jeremiah swore he saw two red eyes staring back at him. When he blinked they disappeared.
The hand the Traveler held out was dark red in color, the fingers ending in pointed black claws.
Jeremiah realized he wanted his hand. With a slight shudder, he reluctantly gave it.
One of the claws snaked out, piercing the palm of his hand. Jeremiah hissed, more in surprise than pain, as a bead of blood blossomed.
Bending his head over the wound, Jeremiah first thought the Traveler was smelling it, but realized almost immediately that the demon was drinking it.
He jerked his hand away on instinct, but the grip around his wrist was like iron. He raised the knife in an instinctive gesture, but dropped it with a cry, his hand burning like fire.
Raising his head, the demon said, “Your blood is tainted. You have killed for your own gain, betrayed those who are loyal to you and will do anything for power. You are worthy.”
Jeremiah smiled through the pain of his burning hand. “So you will help me?”
“I will. You are aware of the sacrifice required?”
“I am. Do I need to sign a contract?”
“That won’t be necessary. The agreement is already made. You will need these ingredients,” he handed Jeremiah a piece of parchment.
“You will need seven for the sacrifice.”
“Seven? I only have four.”
“Seven are required. Do what is necessary to complete the ritual.”
The demon turned away.
“Wait. Do they have to be willing?”
“It’s not a requirement.”
“Good. It will be done.”
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, blogger and journalist from Northern Ireland. She has been writing since she was seven years old and loves horror/fantasy books. When she isn’t writing, she runs a website that provides reviews and promotion for writers.
Realm Walker Series
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Carina Press
Date of Publication: October 28, 2013
Word Count: 76,000
An estranged mate, a mangled body and a powerful demon who calls her by name…
As a Realm Walker for the Agency, Juliana Norris tracks deadly paranormal quarry using her unique ability to see magical signatures. She excels at her job, but her friends worry about her mysterious habit of dying in the line of duty without staying dead. That's only the first of her secrets.
Most people don't know Juliana became the mate of master vampire Thomas Kendrick before he abandoned her seven years ago. Most people don't know the horrors she endured at the hands of the vampire he left in command. Most people don't know her true parentage, or why a demon on a world-threatening rampage has taken a personal interest in her…
Even as Juliana pursues the demon, it goes after all she holds dear—including Thomas, who is back to claim her for his own. But if she can't reconcile her past and learn to trust herself again, she will lose him forever.
Available at Amazon BN Harlequin Print
Realm Walker Series
Genre: urban fantasy, paranormal romance
Publisher: Carina press
Word Count: 68,000
Juliana Norris, Realm Walker with the Agency, is an Altered. A fact that she runs up against every time she’s forced to work with human police officers, and their species-ist commissioner, on cases they can’t solve themselves. Which happens more than they would like to admit.
Her gift—the quality that makes her the best Realm Walker in the business, without boast—is the ability to read magical signatures. Whether the gift came from her father, the dark fae god of death, or the mage mother she can’t remember, is anyone’s guess. And when Altered children start going missing with only wild magical signatures as clues, her heritage is the last thing on her mind.
She can’t afford such distractions, and she definitely can’t afford to worry about the fact that her mate, master vampire Thomas Kendrick, hasn’t spoken to her since she saved him from a demon—maybe it’s because she had to stab him to do so. Because whoever is kidnapping these children must be very powerful to wield wild magic. Very powerful, and very dangerous indeed.
Available at Amazon BN Harlequin Print
The Making of Michael Bishop
A Realm Walker Short Story
Genre: urban fantasy, dark fantasy
Date of Publication: August 30, 2014
Number of pages: 20
Book Description: Keep your distance. Don't look him in the eye. Feed him and leave.
Michael D'Augustino is a priest in the time of the Inquisition. Marked as weak for his refusal to torture those charged with sorcery, heresy, devil worship or worse, he's given another task. Feed the prisoner in the cell in the darkest corner of the dungeon. With the edict comes a set of instructions.
Ever obedient, Michael does exactly as he is told. Until the night his charge doesn't eat and Michael has to enter the cell to find out why. Instead of the beast he believes to be imprisoned there, he finds a man. A broken, tormented man who asks for help.
But all is not as it seems and, before the night is through, Michael will be changed forever.
Available at Amazon and BN
Realm Walker Series
Can she find a killer in a town where the basest desires are allowed to run free?
There are zombies in the Dead Zone and Juliana Norris is sent to take care of the problem. And for there to be zombies, there had to be bodies. When vampires are found to be the culprits, Juliana is sent undercover in the red light district of Kansas City. Lying to her mate, Thomas Kendrick, isn’t something she wants to do, but she’s in another vampire’s territory and Thomas would not be pleased. Besides, she’s more than capable of doing the job and she needs to prove it to everyone. Most of all herself.
Charles Morgan is in control of the Kansas City area, making a rich living off his various enterprises. Juliana goes undercover at the strip club Lust and gets sucked into his dark, decadent world. More victims turn up and the Agency is positive they’ve got their man, but Juliana is not so sure. When the Agency refuses to listen, she reluctantly turns to Thomas for help. He intervenes but finds Juliana unaware of the danger she is in and discovers she may just be too deep for him to save.
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About the Author:
Kathleen Collins lives and works in Missouri. By day, she labors in the local prosecutor's office. At night she writes while surrounded by her husband, two boys and two loveable mutts. She is constantly thinking of her next project and loves to connect with her readers. You can find her most often on Facebook or on her website.
Realm Walker Book 1 Review
Juliana Norris is a realm walker, able to see the magical signature of supernatural creatures and track them down. She also dies, a lot, and comes back. What secrets is she hiding?
I enjoyed this book, I though Juliana was a great character. She's been through a lot, but she's tough and knows how to do her job. The range of supernatural creatures was extensive and it was nice to read about more than just vampires, although they are in the mix too. Highly entertaining. I would recommend it.
IN A LAND WHERE MAGIC IS BANNED and cruel high priests rule, Elena steals the most valuable jewel in the Empire in the hopes of selling it to start a new life. But she is caught, and the punishment for stealing is death. Yet in that moment she is given a choice — death or become one of the high priests' champions in The Great Race. Elena is catapulted without warning into the bloodiest race in all the realms, forced to compete with a man she hates while she develops a growing passion for another. She struggles to understand her special skills and her mysterious healing powers that she must keep secret. Within a world built on religious sects and dangerous secrets, she becomes a woman torn between obligation and desire, between a man she supposedly hates and another. As Elena comes to terms with her own secret, she discovers the truth behind the race and must stop the ancient, wicked evil that threatens all living things before it's too late.
From the award-winning author of MARKED comes a new mesmerizing series full of action, adventure, and steamy romance.
The first book in the DIVIDED REALMS series
Kim Richardson is the author of the best-selling series, Soul Guardians. Born in Quebec, Canada, she later studied in the field of 3D Animation, and became an Animation Supervisor for a VFX company. For many years she worked on Hollywood films and stayed in the field of animation for 14 years. Since then, she has retired from the VFX world and settled in the country where she writes full time.
Top Ten Kickass Heroines
Thanks so much for hosting today’s stop on the tour! For those who don’t know me, my name is Lori Sjoberg. I’m the author of Grave Attraction, a paranormal romance. I’ve always been a sucker for a strong heroine, one who isn't afraid to confront her worst fears, uses her brain to get out of sticky situations, and maybe kicks a little ass in the process. They're the types of heroines I personally want to read about, and they're also the types of heroines I enjoy writing.
Here are just a few of my favorite strong and/or kickass heroines from books, movies, and television. It took a bit of work to whittle it down to just ten, so make sure to leave a comment and let me know which ones I missed!
Rey – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Usually, I include Leia on my list, but after watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I think the torch has passed to Rey. She’s smart, resourceful, and if she runs into trouble, she isn’t going to wait around for somebody to rescue her. I can’t wait to see how her character develops over the next two installments of the new trilogy.
Clarice Starling – Silence of the Lambs
In both the book and the movie, Clarice was an intelligent and tough FBI agent-in-training who refused to be held back in a male dominated field. She kept her wits about her as she went toe-to-toe with Hannibal Lecter and took down Buffalo Bill.
Sarah Connor – Terminator; Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Haunted. Driven. Fierce. I'm still in awe of Linda Hamilton's transformation from mousy waitress to buff, gun-toting warrior bent on saving her son - and the world - from Skynet. Look at those biceps!
Buffy Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy was the antithesis of the helpless girl who gets slaughtered in every horror movie. Imagine fighting vampires and demons while dealing with high school angst. That alone earns her a spot on the list!
Dana Scully – The X-Files
Scully was the consummate skeptic, only believing what could be proven through science. She examined each case with a critical eye, searching for a plausible, scientific explanation. Late in the series, she became a believer, but it took a heck of a lot of convincing!
Éowyn – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (book and movie)
A noblewoman of Rohan and also a shieldmaiden, Éowyn isn’t about to sit back and let the men do all the fighting. And that’s a good thing, since she manages to kill the Witch King during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Hermoine Granger – Harry Potter series (both books and movies)
Let’s be honest, she was the brains of the entire series. If it wasn’t for Hermoine, the boys wouldn’t have survived long enough to battle You-Know-Who.
Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games (books and movies)
Before taking her sister’s place in the games, she was the glue that held her family together. Resilient, rebellious, and more vulnerable than she realizes, Katniss not only survives the games, but she also inspires a rebellion.
Claire Fraser – The Outlander Series (books and television series)
Former WWII combat nurse, Claire Fraser, gets the surprise of her life when she steps into a stone circle in Scotland and ends up two hundred years in the past. Not only does she need to find a way to return to the present, but she also has to deal with a determined English soldier who wants to know all of her secrets and the Scottish clansmen who suspect she’s a spy (or maybe a witch). And then there’s one James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser to consider….
Marlena Walther – Grave Attraction
A shifter who’s over four hundred years-old, Marlena’s seen her fair share of action. She’s fierce, smart, resourceful, and loyal, but she’s never recovered from the loss of her mate many years ago. Imagine her surprise when she encounters reaper Adam Javorski and realizes their connection run soul-deep.
How about you? Who are your favorite kickass fictional heroines?
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Date of Publication: January 5, 2016
Number of pages: approx. 247
Word Count: approx. 90,000
Cover Artist: Lyrical Press
He’s a reaper who works by the book. But a sexy shifter will have him changing the course of fate just to be with her—if a killer doesn’t get to her first…
After four years as a reaper, helping souls cross into the afterlife is a job Adam Javorski has finally gotten used to. But when he arrives at the site of a serial killer’s latest victim, finding a living—not to mention gorgeous—hostage is the last thing he expects. The young woman captivates him in a way no one ever has—so much so, he breaks rule number one by helping her escape…
Marlena Walther doesn’t remember the man who rescued her. But when she sees Adam again, she recognizes him instantly as her soul mate. While the two work together to track down a killer determined to finish what he started, their undeniable attraction draws them even closer. Now Adam is the only one who can protect Marlena from a vengeful murderer—if he’s willing to sacrifice everything for her.
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It was a wonder none of the neighbors had noticed that something wasn’t right with the house. Storm shutters covered every single window, with locks keeping them bolted in place. It might be considered normal during hurricane season, but year-round? Definitely weird. The pulse of pending mortality emanated from the building, weak but growing stronger by the minute. Soon, death would claim another victim, leaving Adam to clean up the mess.
As a reaper, that was his calling. Day in and day out, he claimed the souls of the recently departed and guided them to the next stage in their journey. Often, that meant a better place. Other times … not so much.
He’d been on the job for almost four years, after losing his own humanity in the south side of Chicago on a warm October night. Back then he’d been a cop, and a damn good one. But that hadn’t stopped him from royally fucking up and damning his soul in the process.
Shaking his head, he forced the painful memories from his thoughts and focused on the house across the street. Inside, the call of death intensified, gathering steam until it buzzed through his blood like a chain saw. He gritted his teeth when it reached a crescendo, his hands clenched against the steering wheel. He hated this part—not doing anything when you knew someone was about to die. It went against all of his instincts. But Fate had strict rules concerning interference, and he knew better than to challenge her authority.
Less than five minutes later the garage door opened and a silver four-door sedan backed down the driveway. Seven little stick figure decals were lined up on the back window, and Adam couldn’t help but wonder if they signified actual family members or the number of people he’d murdered. As for the killer himself, he seemed deceptively average: white male, average height, average build, with short graying hair and brown eyes. No visible scars, tattoos, piercings, or other distinguishing features. His mediocrity served as camouflage to conceal a predator lurking in plain sight.
As soon as the car drove out of the subdivision, Adam popped the lock to his door. “Call me if he comes back early,” he told Martin as he stepped out of the truck. From past experience and Dmitri’s notes, he knew the guy would only be gone for about ten minutes. Just long enough for the sick fuck to buy a half gallon of ice cream from the nearby grocery store.
Under cover of darkness, Adam crossed the street and approached the wood-frame house. He ignored the sign that warned of an alarm, since it merely served as a deterrent. No serial killer worth his salt would run the risk of the alarm sounding off and triggering a visit by local law enforcement. Retrieving the set of picks from his back pocket, he worked on the locks on the front door. The bottom one opened with little effort, but the dead bolt gave him a minute of trouble before the tumblers clicked into place. He took a deep breath, mentally bracing himself for the horrors that waited inside. The stench of fresh death and lingering decay assaulted his nostrils the instant he crept into the foyer. As a cop, he’d never gotten used to the smell, and he doubted he ever would as a reaper. With the lights out, he couldn’t see a damn thing, but he waited to flip the switch until after the door clicked shut.
The small foyer led into a large living room with a brick fireplace. There wasn’t a single piece of furniture in sight, and the vaulted ceilings and shuttered windows gave the place a cavernous feel. Blue plastic tarps covered the hardwood floor, probably to protect it from stains. Or perhaps they were there to make it easier for the killer to remove the body.
The victim was a male this time, barely out of his teens. The poor kid had been chained by his wrists to the wall a few feet away from the fireplace. He was clad in only a pair of ratty black jeans, with a silver collar fastened around his neck. The blade of a dagger was buried in a chest so mutilated it was almost unrecognizable. His pale green eyes stared into oblivion, his mouth opened in a silent scream. The soul had already broken free from the corpse, hovering close but not quite touching. Confused and despondent, he retained his human form, unaware that he no longer needed to conform to his prior physical constraints.
Pushing back against a rush of anger, Adam stepped closer to the body. The cop in him demanded immediate justice, but that was no longer part of his job description. He narrowed his focus, reaching out with his mind until he locked onto the kid’s essence. He sensed no taint of evil on the soul as he slowly drew it toward him. To calm the spirit he sent out wordless reassurances, promising safety, closure, and the end to physical pain.
Pacified, the soul offered no resistance, merging with Adam’s body in a wash of benevolent warmth. The kid’s essence carried a unique quality that Adam couldn’t quite define. Demon, mage? Honestly, he couldn’t say for sure. His experience with non-humans was limited. As the kid’s spirit distilled to its purest form, it became aware of the death of its body, and confusion gave way to panic.
“You’ve got to get out of here before he gets back! Please! Go, and warn the others. If he finds them, he’ll kill them all—oh wait! You need to free the girl first. She doesn’t deserve what he plans to do to her. Please say yes, I’ll do anything you want, please, please, please …”
Adam squeezed his eyes shut while he contained the soul, blocking out the unwanted flood of emotions for the sake of his own sanity. During his time on the force, he’d grown desensitized to crime scenes, but all that training flew right out the window when the dead insisted on talking. For him, it was one of the toughest parts about being a reaper, so much that it came close to breaking him during his first year on the job.
Finished, he turned away from the body, eager for a breath of fresh air. And a beer. He was halfway to the front door when a female’s voice shouted out from the rear of the house.
“Who the hell are you?” Her husky voice sounded harder than iron, but her eyes were wide and unblinking.
Adam didn’t answer. He was too busy appraising the locks. With enough time and the proper equipment, he could override the electronic keypad. Unfortunately, he lacked the luxury of either. Besides, it wasn’t his business. As a reaper, his obligations lay with the dead. He had no right to interfere with the living. Those lessons had been drilled into his head countless times. Always collect your appointed souls. Do not alert humans to our presence. Do not question Fate. And for the love of God, do not alter destiny. His mentor’s words echoed in his ears, the only thing keeping him from running to his truck for a hacksaw.
Frustrated, Adam balled his hands into fists. If he had a lick of sense, he’d leave the house before he did anything stupid. But something about the young woman called out to his soul, tugging so fiercely he found it impossible to turn away. A deep sense of connection flashed through his blood—swift, strong, and given the situation, completely inappropriate. He’d never experienced anything like it, and it knocked him completely off balance.
His phone vibrated in his back pocket, jarring him from his thoughts.
“Get your ass out of there,” Martin said when Adam answered the call. “Your boy’s on his way back to the nest, and it looks like he brought company.”
Shit. According to his notes, the killer worked alone. Since when had he recruited a partner? “All right, I’ll be there in a minute.” Adrenaline surged through his veins as he disconnected. There wasn’t enough time to break the blond free. But what kind of man would he be if he left a defenseless woman in the hands of psychos? Fuck destiny. The least he could do was give her a fighting chance at survival. To the best of his knowledge, she wasn’t fated to expire any time soon, and in his book that made her fair game.
“Hey!” the blond shouted when he stormed out of the room, fear rising in her voice. “Come back! Let me out of here!”
The sound of the garage door opening shot Adam’s pulse into overdrive. With time running out, he rushed to the kitchen and grabbed the cordless phone from the charging station. He dialed as he walked, and by the time he reached the back room, a 911 operator had picked up the call.
“Please state the nature of your emergency,” a woman said on the other end of the line.
Adam shoved the phone through the narrow steel bars. His gaze locked with the woman’s long enough to insert a mental suggestion.
You’re at 816 Heron Cove. I was never here.
She stared at him, a puzzled expression on her face as he turned and raced for the exit. He heard her speaking to the emergency operator, and relief flooded his heart. With luck, the police would arrive within minutes and free the poor woman from captivity.
The sound of a car engine shut off in the garage. Adam’s pulse pounded in his ears as he flicked off the lights and yanked the front door open. As he stepped over the threshold, he heard the creak of the door that connected the garage to the kitchen. Quietly, carefully, he closed the front door, praying they wouldn’t notice the unlocked dead bolt.
Not looking back, Adam ran to the truck and slid behind the wheel.
“What took you so long?” Martin’s nose crinkled. “Dude, you smell like roadkill.”
Adam shot him a withering glare as he turned the key in the ignition. “What did you expect? It doesn’t smell like fucking lilacs in there.” He twisted his neck and sniffed the sleeve of his shirt. Yep, he reeked of death, which meant a shower and a fresh change of clothes before heading out to the bar. After he clicked on his seat belt, he reached over and switched on the police scanner.
Martin glanced down as Adam adjusted the dial to pick up the right frequency. “What are you listening for?”
“Nothing.” The code for a drunk and disorderly came over the speaker, followed by an officer acknowledging the call and stating that he was en route. What the hell? Where was the dispatch to save the woman? Maybe they’d already made the call and he’d missed it. He drummed his fingers against the gearshift, hesitant to leave the scene until he knew an officer was on the way.
Martin’s thick eyebrows furrowed. Even in the darkened space of the cab, it was obvious he wasn’t buying Adam’s bullshit. “What did you do?”
Before Adam had the chance to think up a lie, another call came over the scanner. Possible kidnapping and murder, suspects armed and dangerous. Dispatch advised officers to approach the scene with no lights and no sirens. Good. At least they were taking the call seriously. From the sound of it, one of the units was close enough to arrive in under a minute. Thank God. Adam slipped the truck into gear and pulled away from the curb. The last thing he needed was to get dragged into a multiple murder investigation.
Martin’s mouth dropped open as they sped past the killer’s house. “You didn’t.”
“What was I supposed to do?”
“Your job.” Martin let out a grunt of disgust. “Fucking Boy Scout. You know better than that. Samuel’s gonna tear you a new one.”
“Only if he finds out.” The memory of what happened to his mentor sprang to mind and an icy ball of dread settled in his stomach. Samuel always found out.
About the Author:
Lori Sjoberg is the award winning author of the GRAVE SERIES. She lives in Florida with her husband and four-legged fur baby.
Growing up the youngest of three girls, Lori never had control of the remote. (Not that she's bitter about that. Really. Okay, maybe a little, but it's not like she's scarred for life or anything.) That meant a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy. Star Trek, Star Wars, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits - you name it, she watched it. It fed her imagination, and that came in handy when the hormones kicked in and she needed a creative excuse for being out past curfew.
After completing her first novel, she joined the Romance Writers of America and Central Florida Romance Writers. Now she exercises the analytical half of her brain at her day job, and the creative half writing sensual paranormal romance. Grim reapers are her specialty, but she loves to write about all creatures of the night.
You can read more about Lori at http://lorisjoberg.com/
I received an ARC for an honest review
Marlena is a shifter who is kidnapped by two brothers intent on killing supernatural beings. Adam is a reaper who breaks the rules when he helps Marlena escape. The two are drawn to each other, but their love life is put on hold as the two brothers are still after her. Adam has problems of his own when his boss shows up having lost his powers and he needs Adam's help.
I like fantasy books like this, it was an interesting storyline and plenty of action. I did feel that Marlena and Adam got together really fast, but that the reincarnation angle went some way toward explaining this. I would read more books in the series and I would recommend this book to other readers.
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: November 17, 2015
Genre: Paranormal Mystery
Paperback: 432 pages
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Christopher Pike comes a brand-new fascinating and seductive new novel about a girl with a mysterious ability—but one that carries an unimaginable cost.
From the moment Fred meets Aja, he knows she’s different. She’s pretty, soft-spoken, shy—yet seems to radiate an unusual peace. Fred quickly finds himself falling in love with her.
Then strange things begin to happen around Aja. A riot breaks out that Aja is able to stop by merely speaking a few words. A friend of Fred’s suffers a serious head injury and has a miraculous recovery.
Yet Aja swears she has done nothing.
Unfortunately, Fred is not the only one who notices Aja’s unique gifts. As more and more people begin to question who Aja is and what she can do, she’s soon in grave danger. Because none of them truly understands the source of Aja’s precious abilities—or their devastating cost.
Love Aja or hate her—you will never forget her.
In Strange Girl, #1 bestselling author Christopher Pike has created the rarest of novels—a love story that swings between a heart-pounding mystery and a stirring mystical journey.
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I STILL GET asked about Aja, where she came from, what it was like to be her friend, to actually date her, whether the stories about her were true, and who—or what—I really thought she was.
The last question makes me smile, probably because I understand it’s hard to talk about Aja without sounding like a nut. That’s what I try telling people who want to know about her. She was a mystery, a genuine enigma, in a world that has more trouble each day believing in such things. And now that she’s gone, I think she’ll forever remain a mystery.
At least to those who loved her.
And to those who feared her.
My name’s Fred Allen, and I was a seventeen-year-old senior in high school when I met Aja. I was heading home on a hot Friday afternoon after a boring two weeks of classes when I spotted her sitting in the park across the street from campus. I’d like to say I saw something special about her from the start but I’d be lying, although later I wondered if she might have been kind of strange.
There was a perfectly fine bench five feet off to her left but instead of sitting on it like a normal person she was kneeling in the grass and plucking at a few scrawny daisies, while occasionally looking up at Elder High’s sweaty student body as they poured into the side streets or else cut across the park toward their homes.
The sweat was because of the humidity. From June until October, it hovered around 90 percent. But the stickiness was usually vanquished by a brief autumn that blew by in a month or less, and was replaced by bitter winter winds that were so cold they’d bite your ass off—even if you had the bad taste to wear long underwear to school, which only the principal and the teachers did.
I suppose it could have been worse. Elder could have been located in North Dakota instead of South Dakota. Our northern neighbors were something of a mystery to most of us. I mean, it’s not like anyone went to vacation up there. All we really knew about them was that they were always lobbying to change their name to just plain “Dakota.” For some reason they thought that would make their state sound more inviting. Go figure.
Anyway, the thing that struck me about Aja at the start, besides her love of grass and daisies, was that she stared at many of the students who walked by. She didn’t smile at them, didn’t say hi or bat her long lashes or anything seductive like that. She just looked straight at them, which probably made most of them feel uncomfortable. I noticed the majority looked away as they strode by.
I mentioned her long lashes, and yeah, I did happen to notice she was pretty. Not beautiful in the usual social-media way, but an easy eight or nine on Fred Allen’s relatively generous scale of one to ten. Even at a distance of a hundred yards I could see her hair was dark brown, shiny, and that her skin was the same color as my favorite ice cream—Häagen-Dazs Coffee.
Yet I didn’t equate her with ice cream because I wanted to take a bite out of her or anything gross like that. It’s not like I felt some mad rush of seventeen-year-old hormones and experienced first love for the twentieth time. I just sort of, you know, noticed that she looked nice, very nice, and that her long lashes framed a pair of large, dark eyes that were, sadly, not looking anywhere in my direction.
That was it; that was my first impression of Aja. Oh, there was one other thing. I did happen to notice that she had on a simple white dress that didn’t quite reach to her knees. The thing that struck me about the dress was—not that it was filthy—it looked like it could have used a wash.
Introduction to Aja complete. I went home and didn’t give her more than a few hours of thought all weekend. And no, honestly, my fantasies were not a hundred percent sexual. I mainly wondered why a girl her age, if she was new to town, wasn’t going to school. It was just a thought. Elder High, my school, was the only one in town for someone our age.
Monday morning I heard about Aja from my best friend, Janet Shell, five minutes before our first period, calculus, started. I was taking calculus because it was an AP class and my parents were obsessed that I ace as many hard classes as possible so I’d go to college and not grow up to be as miserable as they were.
That was sort of a joke in our household but, unfortunately, it was mostly true. My dad sold new and used cars at a Toyota dealership in a neighboring town of ours, Balen, which actually had a multiplex where the speaker system didn’t sound like a jukebox and there was a generous selection of eight movies. Unlike Elder’s sole theater, where you had to wear 3-D glasses just to keep from squinting at the sagging screen.
My mom also worked in Balen as an executive secretary for a boss that couldn’t have spelled her job title. My parents were both smart, and they loved each other, I think, but when I asked why they hadn’t moved away from Elder—like, say, before I was born—they just told me to pass the salt. What I mean is, the way they fell silent whenever I asked about their past made me feel like I was somehow rubbing salt in old wounds. I joke about it now—a bad habit, I still joke about most things—but it did worry me that they weren’t happy.
Janet Shell, on the other hand, was super happy, or else she knew how to act the part, which according to her was all that mattered. She was taking calculus because she was smart and loved math. But she was cool, too. For example, although a straight-A student, she intended to get a C in calculus simply because she didn’t want to get elected our class valedictorian.
Besides hating the spotlight, Janet knew if she was required to give a speech to us graduating seniors, there was no way she’d be able to resist telling us that virtually our whole class would still be living in Elder when our ten- and twenty-year high school reunions rolled around—her way of saying that the majority of us were destined to be losers.
“Have you seen the new girl yet?” Janet asked before Mr. Simon showed up his usual five minutes late. We’d had him as our math teacher three years running. The guy came into class reeking of pot almost every morning until Halloween rolled around, when he’d switch over to some kind of mysterious blue pill—Janet swore it was the stimulant Adderall—and lecture us on three chapters a week instead of his normal three pages.
Naturally, Janet’s question about the “new girl” piqued my interest. I’d been looking for her since I’d arrived at school. Still, I acted cool.
“Nope,” I said, adding a shrug.
“Bullshit. You must have seen her. You just blushed.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Janet looked me over. “Her name’s Aja—A-J-A. It’s pronounced like Asia but with more of a J sound. She’s a total fox, super exotic-looking. She just moved here from a remote village in Brazil. Everyone’s talking about her but I hear she’s not talking much. The word is—she’s not stuck-up, just quiet.” Janet paused. “What do you think? Want to ask her out?”
“How about I meet her first, then decide?” I said.
“Okay. But I think with this one you’re going to have to act fast. She’s no Nicole. You can’t wait two years to get up your nerve. She’ll go quick.”
I felt a stab of pain that Janet had so carelessly brought up Nicole but hid it. “What makes you so sure? She might be picky.”
Janet wavered. “True. But a ton of guys are going to hit on her. She’s a looker and she’s got money and she knows how to dress.”
Recalling the plain, dusty dress Aja had been wearing in the park, that surprised me. “Really?”
Janet caught the note in my voice. “You have seen her, you bastard. Why do you lie to me when you’re such a shitty liar? Tell me the truth, have you talked to her?”
I sighed. “I saw a new girl last Friday while walking home from school. She was sitting in the park, plucking flowers. I’m not sure she’s the same person you’re talking about.”
“Right. Like this town has a surplus of beautiful girls.”
“Hold on a sec. You’re the one who says us guys are always judging a book by its cover. Well, what are you doing? So she’s pretty. So she’s got expensive clothes. She could still be a jerk.”
“She’s not, she’s cool.” Janet leaned closer, lowered her voice. “I met her, I spoke to her.”
“Ten minutes ago. We only exchanged a few words but I sensed something unique about her.” Janet paused. “You know the last time I said that, don’t you?”
“Ages ago. When you met me.”
“That’s right. That’s why you need to ask her out.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Mr. Simon stumbled in right then, smelling like Colombian Gold, and told us to open our textbooks to chapter three. It was Janet who had to remind him that we hadn’t covered chapter two yet.
I spent most of the class digesting what Janet had said. I’d learned long ago to take her insights seriously. Janet was not merely smart; she had an uncanny intuition when it came to people. She said 99.99 percent of the population were sheep. If she liked Aja, it meant she was more than a pretty face.
I saw Aja in third period, before lunch, in American History.
We were in the same class. Just my luck.
Maybe, I thought, maybe not. My usual seat was in the corner, all the way in the back. Aja came in two minutes after me and sat down in the first row, but the last seat, by the windows. Basically, even though we occupied the same room, she was pretty far away. I couldn’t help but think she’d somehow spotted me, remembered me staring at her the previous Friday afternoon, and had gone out of her way to keep her distance.
Of course, given the fact that she hadn’t even glanced in my direction when she’d entered the classroom, I was probably just being paranoid.
She looked good, better than good. There were plenty of heads between me and her and all I could see was Aja’s. Her dark hair appeared a little shorter than last Friday, like she’d gotten a trim over the weekend. But the shine was still there. And her long eyelashes, seen in profile, were amazing.
Our teacher, Mrs. Nancy Billard, came into the room. A stuffy, old bird if you got on her wrong side, but one of the most caring people you could meet if she happened to like you. She taught AP English on top of history and I’d had her for English the previous year and had won her over with a slew of wild-and-crazy short stories I’d written. She liked students who thought outside the box.
However, those who landed on her wrong side were either flunked or ignored or both. In her AP classes she enforced a strict work ethic. She said anyone who wanted to go to college had to earn it.
“I see we have a new student today,” she said, glancing in Aja’s direction. “I was told you’d be joining us. What’s your name?”
“Aja,” she replied in a soft voice.
“Is that your first or last name?”
“It’s what people call me.”
Billard cleared her throat, a bad sign. “Then that’s what I’ll call you. But please humor the rest of the class and tell us your full name.”
“Took a moment to remember your family name?”
Aja stared at her and said nothing.
Billard continued. “Well, we’re all very happy you could join us two weeks late. Another week and you’d have wandered in during the Civil War. Ted, fetch a textbook for Aja from the closet and let’s all open to page forty-nine, chapter three. Time we got to the thirteen colonies and their feud with King George the Third.” Billard paused and glanced at Aja again. “Do you have a problem, girl?”
“You’re looking at me kind of funny. I thought maybe you did.” Aja didn’t reply, just continued to stare at her, which didn’t sit well with Billard. “You do know something about American history, don’t you?”
“No,” Aja replied.
Billard blinked, unsure whether Aja was sassing her or not. “Then it’s your responsibility to catch up. This is an AP class—there are no shortcuts here. Read the first forty-eight pages of your textbook tonight and I’ll quiz you on them tomorrow.”
Aja nodded without speaking as she accepted the textbook from Ted Weldon, a football jock with a double-digit IQ and a gross habit of farting whenever he yawned. Some might have wondered what he was doing in an AP class. But those who bothered to contemplate the matter probably didn’t know that Ted’s father was best buddies with Elder High’s Principal Levitt and that—despite what Billard had just said—there were always shortcuts available to those students whose parents knew the right people.
Handing Aja her textbook, Ted didn’t simply look at her; he gloated over her face and body before returning to his chair, eliciting a mild chuckle from the rest of the class.
“Thanks,” Aja said. Her voice was not merely soft, it was smooth, cool, confident. She obviously didn’t have to speak up to make a point. Plus her answers to Billard’s questions had been at best evasive, which I naturally had to admire.
Yet I could tell already that Billard didn’t like her and that Aja was probably going to have a hard time in her class. That bothered me, a little, even though she was a total stranger.
Total stranger. Damn. Got to change that fast.
I remembered Janet’s warning that Aja would not last when it came to Elder High’s horny guys, and it got my adrenaline pumping. When class was over I caught up with her outside in the hallway and walked by her side before she stopped at her locker. Oh no, I thought. I wasn’t ready for this. Suddenly a life-changing choice was upon me. I could either keep walking and live the rest of my days in regret or I could stop and pretend to have a locker next to her.
I did the latter, spinning the dial on the lock like it was preset to my favorite radio station. Only the volume never came on and the locker never opened because I had no idea what the combination was. Fortunately, Aja seemed to be having trouble with her own locker and I was able to swoop in and rescue her.
“It’s not opening?” I asked, way too casually and with a stupid grin on my face.
Aja pulled a slip of paper from her pants pocket and stuck it out for me to take. “I was told this is the combination,” she said.
Aja didn’t have on ordinary pants; she wore designer jeans that had clearly been purchased far from Elder’s finest clothing stores. Up top she had on an ultrathin maroon sweater; and if it was responsible for her subtle curves, then it was worth its weight in gold. Her silky blouse had red in it as well—a rusty color that made me think of desert sand dunes and romantic sunset kisses and . . .
I was losing it, I suddenly realized. Aja’s big brown eyes were still waiting for me to take her slip of paper. I shook my head and took a breath. Breathing was good, I reminded myself.
“This looks like it might work,” I said. Duh! The piece of paper said: “LOCKER NUMBER” on top. A sequence of three numbers followed: 12–18–24. All the locks in school—all the combinations I’d ever seen, for that matter—worked on the right-left-right sequence. When I dialed in Aja’s three digits, the locker immediately opened. Amazing. I noticed her eyes following me closely and added, “You see how it works?”
“Yes,” she replied, and it was only then I realized she’d never had a locker before. She deposited her book inside and closed it. Out of habit, I reached up and spun the dial.
“You can’t be too careful,” I said.
“Your lock. You need to spin it to clear the combination.” She didn’t respond, just stared at me. Again, I felt the need to add something. “So no one will break into your locker.”
“Kids do that here?” she asked.
“Some kids do, yeah.” Again, she seemed to wait for me to continue so I added, “Actually, the students here don’t like being called kids.”
“What should I call them?”
“Girls or guys or people. Kids—it sounds kind of young, you know.”
“I didn’t know that but thanks for telling me.”
“No problem. By the way, my name’s Fred Allen. I’m in your history class. I sit in the back.”
“I saw you.”
“You did?” God, the way I asked the question, the sheer amount of wonder in my tone, it was like she’d just told me she’d found a heart donor that could save my life. I reminded myself again to keep breathing and try to act normal. Fortunately, Aja didn’t appear to notice my clumsiness.
“Yes,” she said simply, adding, “I’m Aja.”
“I know. I mean, I heard what you told Mrs. Billard.” Aja nodded and again acted as if she wanted me to keep talking. I added, “She can be a great teacher if she thinks you’re trying. But slack off and she’ll classify you as a loser. Then you’ll be in trouble. She was serious when she told you that she’s going to quiz you on the first two chapters of the textbook. If I was you I’d study tonight. I’d read chapter three as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if she quizzed you on the whole lot.”
“I will.” She looked past me as the student body converged toward Elder High’s courtyard. We had an indoor cafeteria but no one ventured inside before the first snow came. The school lunch staff didn’t mind. They kept a half-dozen windows open where you could order a decent hamburger, hot dog, or sandwich if you had the money. Since I was on a strict budget, I usually brought a brown bag from home and just picked up a Coke from one of the vending machines. In fact, my lunch was waiting for me back at my real locker, although I felt in no hurry to get to it.
“The kids . . . the girls and guys have lunch now?” Aja asked.
“Yeah. It’s always after third period. Are you hungry?”
“This bod . . .” She suddenly stopped. “Yes.”
“Bring anything from home?” I knew she hadn’t because I’d seen the interior of her locker and it had been empty. She shook her head and for the hundredth time waited for me to go on. I added, “Then you should probably pick up something at the windows.”
“Are you going to these . . . windows?”
“Uh-huh. I can show you where they are if you want. If you don’t have other plans, I mean.”
She flashed a smile. “I don’t have any plans, Fred.”
I liked how she said my name and loved her smile; nevertheless, I groaned inside thinking how hard Janet would be laughing if she could see me now. Honestly, my nervousness made no sense. Sure, Aja was pretty, and, sure, I liked her, or at least I thought I did. But she was the new girl in town, a stranger from another country, and English was obviously a second language for her. She should have been the one stumbling all over the place.
I assumed the language barrier was the reason she had almost referred to herself as “This body.” I was pretty sure that’s what she’d been about to say.
I escorted her to the windows and if I’d been forced to critique my stride I’d have to say I looked like an extra on The Walking Dead. I was definitely taking time finding my cool gear. But eventually I began to calm down and by the time we’d waited in line and it was our turn to order I was feeling pretty good about myself. Why not? I’d just met Aja and already I was taking her to lunch. Not bad for a few minutes’ work. I’d decided to pay for whatever she ordered to show what a gentleman I was.
“Hey, Fred, how’s the demo going?” Carlos asked from the other side of the glass. He was from Mexico and worked three jobs to keep his family of six out of the rain. He was also a genius when it came to playing the acoustic guitar and was helping me to lay down tracks on a new three-song demo I was struggling to put together.
Yeah, I know, so I wanted to be a rock star.
But tell the truth. Who didn’t?
“It’s getting there,” I said honestly, turning to Aja, who was staring at Carlos and not bothering to look at the overhead menu. To his credit, Carlos acted like I showed up every afternoon with a pretty girl on my arm. “Know what you want?” I asked Aja.
She looked at me. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Want a burger? A sandwich? A salad?”
“I’ll have what you’re having,” she said.
“I was going to have a turkey sandwich with fries. And a Coke. That sound good?”
Aja nodded. “That’s good.”
Carlos whipped up our sandwiches in three minutes flat and when it was time to pay Aja pulled out a wad of cash fat enough to buy a new car with. I hastily told her I had it covered and she put the money back in her pocket.
Like the rest of town, Elder High was kind of old and kind of poor, and no part of our campus reflected those qualities more than our courtyard. It had no tables, no umbrellas to block the sun, no drinking fountains. Only peeling wooden benches that, if you were lucky, managed to catch the shade of a nearby tree.
Of course we had trees, the whole state did, except for our infamous Badlands, which I, personally, happened to love. I steered Aja toward a shady bench located somewhere between where the jocks and the bad boys gathered. Like most schools, Elder High had a variety of clearly defined social groups, none of which had ever shown the slightest interest in attracting me as a member.
For a few minutes I had Aja all to myself but I wasted them because all I did was eat and watch her eat. It was during this time I noticed that she seemed to be following my lead. When I unwrapped my turkey sandwich, she unwrapped hers. When I reached for a fry or a sip of Coke, she did the same. She didn’t take nearly as big bites as I did, though. If anything she chewed her food more thoroughly than anyone I’d ever met.
But she only mimicked me for a few minutes before quitting.
“Where are you from?” I finally asked.
Aja pointed north. “I live with my aunt Clara. In a white house by a large pond.”
I had meant where she was from in Brazil but her answer interested me. “You don’t live in the old Carter Mansion, do you?”
“Carter? Hmm. Yes, the realtor told Aunty that was the name of the man who built the house. That’s where this . . . that’s where I stay.”
“That’s one big house. Is it just the two of you?”
“Bart lives with us.”
“Bart is Bart. He takes care of things.”
“Is he a housekeeper? A butler?”
“Yes. He’s been with Aunty since before I met her.”
“How old were you when you met your aunt?”
“I was small.” Aja added casually, “I ran into her in the jungle.”
“The town where I was born is surrounded by jungle.”
“And you just sort of bumped into your aunt?”
“Are you saying she’s not your real aunt?”
Aja sipped her drink. “She’s as real as you and me.”
I frowned. “This was in Brazil?”
I wanted to continue my line of questioning but we got interrupted right then by Dale Parish and Michael Garcia, two close friends of mine. Actually, two members of a band I’d formed—Half Life. Dale played bass and Mike was our drummer. Dale had only been playing a year but he was a natural and kept improving in leaps and bounds every month. Mike—he’d been banging on anything that made noise since he’d been a kid. No joke, he was like a force of nature onstage. We were lucky to have him. I kept expecting to lose him to a louder and more successful group.
Yet Mike swore he’d never leave us. He had faith in my singing and songwriting abilities.
Unfortunately, he also had a temper and was unpredictable. He missed plenty of practice sessions, even a few paid gigs. We never knew which Mike was going to show up. If he was loaded, on pot or beer, we knew the “Beast” was in the room and we’d better watch out. But when he was sober he was the nicest guy. The swings could be stressful.
Worse, Mike caused Dale constant grief. Because Dale was in love with him and Mike didn’t have a clue. On the surface it seemed impossible, since they’d grown up together. But the truth was Mike didn’t even know Dale was gay. And Dale had begged me and our keyboardist, Shelly Wilson, never to tell him.
Carlos had warned me—and Carlos never lied—that Mike often hung out with a Hispanic gang in Balen that controlled most of the area’s drug traffic. If anything was going to tear our band apart, I knew it was going to be the tension between our drummer and bass player.
“Who do we have here?” Mike asked, straddling the bench beside Aja like it—or she—was a horse he was anxious to ride. Dale nodded to me and smiled uneasily in Aja’s direction but remained standing.
Physically, the two couldn’t have been more unlike. Mike was dark-skinned, short and stocky, and could bench-press more than Elder’s heartiest jocks. If a swinging chick was looking for a bad boy who could rip holes in the sheets, Mike was it. While Dale—well, I never met a more gentle soul in my life but there was a reason his stage name was “The Corpse.” He was way beyond skinny and pale. Onstage, under a harsh spotlight, he almost looked transparent. But the boy sure could play. That was all that mattered to me.
I spoke up. “Aja, these are two musician friends of mine, Mike and Dale. We’re in a band together. Dale plays bass and Mike the drums. Guys, this is Aja. She’s from Brazil. This is her first day at Elder High.”
Aja nodded in their direction. “I enjoy music.”
“But do you like musicians?” Mike asked, teasing. “That’s what I want to know. Besides, what the hell are you doing with Fred? Did he tell you he’s such a wuss that he won’t go onstage—and I’m talking practically every single gig we play—without me swearing that I’ve got his back?”
“I’m afraid it’s true,” I admitted. In the band, during shows, once Mike got going he created such a ferocious rhythm that he drowned out any flat notes I hit on my guitar or with my voice.
“Fred has more talent in his little finger than the rest of us combined,” Dale added.
Mike slapped me on the back. “Yeah, Fred’s the only one in this town that’s going places. Take my word for it. So how did you two meet?”
I assumed Aja would remain silent, given her habit, and that I’d have to answer. However, she stared Mike right in the eye and said, “We met last Friday in the park. He was watching me pick flowers and I smiled at him but he ignored me. But today he’s a lot more friendly.”
Her comment caused my heart to skip.
She’d smiled at me?
Mike was suddenly curious about her accent. “¿Hablan español en el lugar de Brasil de donde vienes?” he asked.
“No muchos. Pero algunos,” Aja said.
“¿Pero creciste hablando portugués?” Mike asked.
“Sim,” Aja said.
“What the hell are they saying?” I asked Dale. He’d taken four years of Spanish at school but his real knowledge of the language had come from hanging around Mike’s family. Dale leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“Mike asked if they spoke Spanish in her part of Brazil. Aja said, ‘Not many, but some.’ Then Mike asked, ‘But you grew up speaking Portuguese?’ And Aja said, ‘Yes.’ ”
“Why the sudden interest in Aja’s background?” I said. But Mike ignored me and continued to speak to Aja, who appeared to fascinate him.
“Your accent—you remind me of my grandmother,” Mike said. “She could speak half a dozen languages. She sounded like she was from everywhere, and nowhere, if you know what I mean. Sort of like you.”
Aja lowered her head. “Ninguém do nada.”
“What was that?” I asked quickly.
Apparently she’d answered in Portuguese, which neither Mike nor Dale understood. When I asked Aja what she’d said, all she did was shake her head like it didn’t matter.
Dale flashed Mike a sign that it was time to split and Mike, knowing my bad luck with girls, bid us a quick farewell. When they were gone Aja and I returned to eating our sandwiches and fries. A long silence settled between us but to my surprise it wasn’t uncomfortable. I suspected Aja had spent most of her life alone and wasn’t bothered by quiet.
“I apologize for Mike,” I said. “He can be a handful when you first meet him.”
“He has a fiery spirit.”
“I suppose that’s where all the smoke comes from.”
Aja turned her big, brown eyes on me. “They look up to you. Are you that good?”
I assumed she was asking about my musical abilities and shrugged. “As far as South Dakota is concerned, I could be the next Mozart. But if I performed at a club in Los Angeles or New York or Seattle I’d be laughed off the stage.” I took a gulp of Coke. “Trying to make a living as a singer/songwriter is probably the most irrational ambition a guy can have. One in a million—no, one in ten million—ends up making money at it.”
“But it’s what you want to do,” she said.
“Then you’ll do it.”
I chuckled. “You haven’t even seen us play.”
The remark was far from subtle. I was hoping she’d bite and say she’d like to come to a show. Also, it wasn’t by chance that I’d switched from talking about me to talking about the band. If she didn’t bite, then she was rejecting Half Life, not me. So went my crazy logic. The truth was I’d brought up being a musician to impress her. It was shameless, I know, but I figured I had to play what cards I held.
“Is it fun for you?” she asked.
“Being onstage? Sometimes—when I forget what I’m doing and that people are watching me. Then I love it. But most of the time I’m way too self-conscious and can’t wait until the gig is over. Seriously.”
Aja continued to stare at me and because she didn’t blink often, it was a bit disconcerting. “Play for me sometime,” she said.
There. I’d practically begged her to ask but now that she had I wished I’d kept my mouth shut. I shook my head. “I’m not a solo artist. Better to see me in the band.”
She nodded but I didn’t think she believed me.
“How about you?” I asked. “What’s your favorite hobby?”
She hesitated. “I don’t have any hobbies. I just . . . enjoy things.”
“What sort of things?”
“Bart told me to watch out for questions like that. He said they’d get me into trouble.”
Her response caught me off guard. “Huh?”
“I told you about Bart.”
“I know, I heard you. But he actually told you how to behave while you were at school today?”
Aja nodded. “He spent the weekend trying to teach me what to say and what not to say.”
“Isn’t that a little weird?”
If my question bothered her, she showed no sign. “Bart said he had to teach me so I wouldn’t appear weird to the rest of you.” As if to reassure me, she reached out and touched my arm. “He was trying to help.”
The instant she touched me, I felt something odd, a lapse of sorts, where I had trouble focusing. The scene around us, the guys and girls walking back and forth across the courtyard, they didn’t stop but they did seem to slow down. I shook my head to clear it and the sensation eased up, somewhat. I noticed Aja had taken back her hand. I had to struggle to get out my next remark.
“I should meet this guy. Maybe he can help me with my weirdness.”
Aja suddenly stood, leaving what was left of her food behind on the bench. She wasn’t tall but at that moment she could have been standing on a chair and looking down at me. I worried that my peculiar sensation had not passed, after all. Again, I had to remind myself that she was new to the school, the stranger in a strange land, but right then I was certain I had it all wrong, that she was more at home in Elder than I could ever hope to be.
“I’m glad we got to talk, Fred. I hope I see you again soon.”
With that she turned and walked away.
About the Author:
Christopher Pike is a bestselling author of young adult novels. The Thirst series, The Secret of Ka, and the Remember Me and Alosha trilogies are some of his favorite titles. He is also the author of several adult novels, including Sati and The Season of Passage.
Thirst and Alosha are slated to be released as feature films. Pike currently lives in Santa Barbara, where it is rumored he never leaves his house.
But he can be found online at www.Facebook.com/ChristopherPikeBooks
Series of writing advice on Wattpad:
25 paperback copies of STRANGE GIRL
5 paperback sets of RED QUEEN and BLACK KNIGHT
5 paperback sets of all 5 copies of THIRST series (1-5) in PB.
5 paperback copies CHAIN LETTER
5 paperback copies UNTIL THE END
5 paperback copies BOUND TO YOU
5 paperback copies REMEMBER ME
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”